Shanghai falls in love with Latin dance

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2006, 12:00am

Shanghai resident Zhou Mingjia has seen his life change somewhat during the past two months - all thanks to Latin dance classes.

Every Thursday night, regardless of the weather, Mr Zhou travels 90 minutes to a dance club in Pudong district for a two-hour Latin session. At the weekend he polishes his skills with the help of a young family member, an eight-year-old girl who has been studying the dance style for about a year.

'Latin dancing is very good for your body and, compared to other kinds of exercises, it allows you to demonstrate your acting abilities. But it is also difficult to grasp,' Mr Zhou said.

The portly 51-year-old had been a long-time waltz enthusiast until the launch of a local television series called Dancing with Anchors in February.

The programme, aired every Sunday night, was a competition among 50 hosts and hostesses from the Shanghai East TV Station. In each round, they performed one form of ballroom dancing, including modern dance and Latin, with professional partners after training in their spare time.

The TV anchors, most of whom chose the Latin style of dancing, were assessed according to their skill and how many text-message votes they received from the public. Featuring dazzling moves and scantily clad female dancers, the show was among the top-rated programmes in the city.

'According to ACNielsen our programme had an average viewing rate of 9.9 per cent. We received as many as 130,000 short-message votes in an hour ... it was the most watchable programme in Shanghai in the past decade,' said Chen Peiying , the show's producer.

In the final competition, children's programme anchorman Fang Ye stood out with a five-minute tango which won the highest marks from six dancing specialists from China and abroad.

Ms Chen said she was inspired to make the programme after seeing the American show Dancing with the Stars, but decided to use local anchors due to the high cost of using celebrities. 'Our anchors can also attract an audience because they are popular in the city,' she said.

Mr Zhou was one of the millions of fans who never missed a single episode. 'I liked it because it let me enjoy beautiful dancing. A lot of people around me, especially middle-aged people, became very enthusiastic about learning Latin, which is new to us, and I understand that many [Latin] clubs have opened recently,' he said.

Fang Jun, a seasoned Latin dancer and owner of a dance club chain, was one of those who saw their business boom. 'We now receive 50 per cent more applications than before, and get about 400 new students each month,' said Mr Fang, a China Ballroom Dancing Committee commissioner.

'Previously our students were overwhelmingly female white-collar workers, but now we have students ranging from children to seniors, and many of them men.'

However, not all new learners were seduced by the TV programme. IT engineer Jia Jie and his fiancee were one of many dedicated couples attending dance school and practising twice a week.

'We started before [the show] was launched, and we've never watched it. We were just interested in Latin because it's cool and fun, and we wanted to perform it as part of our wedding in October,' Mr Jia said.

Lu Liping , a teacher at the Shanghai Sports College and also a veteran dancer, pointed out that Shanghai had a long dance tradition. 'Shanghai was perhaps the first city [on the mainland] to experience modern dance ... many people here are accustomed to dancing as a hobby, but usually only modern dances such as the waltz and quick step, because their quiet, reserved and elegant style is more suitable to Chinese people than Latin's enthusiasm and fervency,' Ms Lu said.

But many Shanghainese people's dancing skills were not so impressive, she said.

Mr Fang said he felt that Shanghai people danced like 'rednecks' after returning from studying in Britain in the late 1990s.

'I hope that after this dance extravaganza, Shanghai people will improve their dancing skills, gain a deeper understanding of ballroom dancing, and embrace it as one of their mainstream activities,' he said.

His hopes could be fulfilled so long as everyone studies as hard as Mr Zhou.

'I know Latin is a very difficult kind of dance and you can only reach a satisfactory level after doing it for dozens of years. I plan to lay a solid foundation in several basic steps this year and the next, and then focus on a particular style [of Latin], perhaps the cha-cha-cha,' Mr Zhou said.